The Iliad was part of a group of ancient poems known as the Epic Cycle, which dealt with the history of the Trojan War and the events surrounding it.

Homer probably had at his fingertips most of these stories and characters, readymade. His genius lay in choosing to focus on the story of Achilleus and in bringing a tragic depth to the story of the battle for Troy. Homer was writing about events that took place four or five hundred years before his own time, events already enlarged by the glamor of the past. However tall Achilleus and Hektor actually were, by Homer’s time their size was legendary, rather like that of comic book superheroes. For the Greeks, these heroes represented the ideals on which their civilization was based. At the same time, they symbolized elements of the human psyche, with its yearning for nobility and honor.

The world of the Iliad is based on history but grows into metaphor: we must look beneath the facts to its deeper meaning. Archaeologists have indeed discovered the remains of a supposed Troy on the coast of Turkey and the majestic ruins of palaces and tombs in Mykenai on the plains of Greece. Through the lines of the Iliad, however, the Greeks and Trojans still live for us, echoing in the human imagination.